When buying a sick cow turns profitable, not all animals with poor body conditions are written off, thus worth disposing of. They can be nurtured back to production through quality feeding as one farmer shows.

The cow looked bad. It was confined to a small waterlogged enclosure. Fortunately, it had not yet developed lameness.

I could however tell it was only a matter of time and it would get footrot disease and start limping if it continued to live in that condition.

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My client asked if he could buy a sick cow and rehabilitate it. He wanted to know if the animal was actually sick. I examined the cow and found no signs of illness but it was a long-standing case of extreme malnutrition.

The face looked sad and forlorn. The hair was long, thin and coloured brown. Yet it was high-grade Fresian mix with some Sahiwal. I estimated the cow, if well fed, could produce up to 20 litres of milk per day from less than a litre it was offering the owner.

The shrunken muscles in the thigh and arms looked like tout cords. I could pick out most of the bones in the live animal from my knowledge of a cow’s anatomy. The backline was bald from the base of the tail to the withers (the point of convergence of the shoulders)

why keep the animal

I enquired from the farmer why she had kept the poor animal and a sick cow in such misery she said she had no time to take care of the animal but she needed manure for her vegetables. I observed there was actually very little cow dung in what she called manure.

Most of it was the plant bedding she had provided not for the cow’s comfort while sleeping during the night but to generate what she called manure.

I told her she would be better off buying manure than keeping a live animal in such conditions.

At that time she decided to sell the animal at a fraction of what she could have got if the animal was well maintained.

The buyer was informed of the risk he was taking buying the animal in such a condition since it could die of malnutrition.

As the buyer opened for the animal to drive it the short distance to his farm, the owner cautioned him the cow had not conceived for the last three years and also never came on heat. And reminded him that was part of the risk he was taking on.


A a sick cow in that body condition would never come on heat.

When animals get into a severe shortage of nutrients, they start shutting down those functions that are not essential to maintaining life.

Reproduction is normally one of the first casualties.

It is for the same reason that the hair along the backline had fallen off. Hair is important in protecting the skin from injury and infection, modelling the beauty of the animal and regulating the body temperature. It is however not directly essential in the maintenance of life.

Before driving the cow to his farm the buyer asked if it could be possible to rehabilitate the cow in order to get back his investment but I told him he can only gamble with money he can afford to lose and with that he drove off.

As the animal moved, the hind legs knocked against each other. At some point, I thought the cow would actually stagger and fall.

Once o the farm, the cow appeared to be in paradise. It was eating anything green including plants I have only seen goats eating.

feeding a sick cow

Fortunately, none was as toxic as this would have complicated an already delicate situation.

I commented this was the appetite of severe deprivation.

The buy was at a loss he did not know what to feed the cow with such a huge appetite. I explained to him it was only a matter of time and the cow would settle into normal eating habits.

As the animal was still under rehabilitation the buyer did not wish to offer a dairy meal or other concentrates in order to keep the rehabilitation costs low.

He said since the animal was not giving milk the feeding concentrates would be an expensive affair.

I noticed he had recently bought high-quality manure for his vegetables. I advised him to put some of the chicken waste tp feed the cow. It would provide the much-needed protein for the animal.

Further, chicken waste from commercially raised birds also contains a lot of spilt feed that enriches the waste with energy.

I advised the buyer to ensure the chicken waste was spread in the sun to dry and then stored in a cool dry place.

The waste should be introduced in small quantities starting from one kilo daily, up to a maximum of kgs. I also told him to feed the cow about 200g of high-quality mineral salts daily until the body conditions improved, the hair changed to black and white and the hair grew on the backline.

conclusion taking care of a sick cow

By that time, the animal would have increased milk production and would also come on heat.

It is now over six months since the buyer risked his money on a skeleton cow.

Today, he has a beautiful Friesian cow that is three months pregnant and produces six litres of milk per day.

The cow also looks happy, active and ready to produce up to 20 litres of milk daily when it calves. It is also worth over five times the purchase price in a period of six months.

Credits: Joseph Mugachia | jmugachia@yahoo.com

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